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What’s new in the Midwest

The Lost Voyage
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
For generations, Dells Boat Tours has been taking tourists on cruises to see the canyons and other rock formations at the dells of the Wisconsin River. This summer, the company is launching a new product, the Lost Voyage, that gives groups a mysterious nighttime experience.

“Our creator wrote a back story about a boat that disappeared in the ’40s and some teens that went missing 70 years later,” said manager Amanda Glime. “So we send people on this adventure to solve the mystery of how the boat and the teens went missing. There are characters and plotlines, and there are clues and answers.”

The voyage begins with a nighttime river cruise that takes passengers to a remote area in the woods, where they disembark. Then, during a two-mile walk, visitors pass through canyons and thin rock passageways, and encounter character actors who give them clues and create an experience similar to that of a haunted house.

The company has spent two years developing the idea, blending truth and storytelling to give visitors a thrilling, brain-teasing encounter.

“A lot of it is based on realistic events and stuff that could have actually happened,” Glime said. “But we’re going to leave it up to the traveler to figure out the fact and the fiction.”

NASA Glenn Visitor Center
Cleveland, Ohio
Since its establishment in the 1940s, the NASA Glenn Research Center has been one of Cleveland’s little-known tourism sites. Although the center had a visitors center, it was somewhat difficult to access; in 2010, the Glenn’s visitors center moved to the Great Lakes Science Center.

“We moved out some of our existing exhibits and created an area that has pieces from the former visitors center and pieces from the NASA Glenn Center that the public weren’t seeing,” said Dante Centuori, director of creative productions at the Great Lakes Science Center. “Right now, we probably have a total of 50 artifacts and exhibits in the visitors center.”

The grand dame of the new visitors center is the Apollo capsule, which was used in the Skylab space missions. Guests will also find a scale model of the lunar landing module that had been in storage at the NASA Glenn Research Center. Other artifacts include moon rocks, a Skylab spacesuit, and various tools and experimental items used on space flights.

The new development is the first step in much bigger plans. The science center is raising money to expand the Glenn visitors center beyond its current footprint.

“In 2012 or 2013, we’re hoping to have a whole new experience out there that can really tell the story of NASA and the Glenn Research Center,” Centuori said. “So we’re just calling the current part ‘Phase One.’”

Chicago Neighborhood Tours

Most tourists in Chicago visit Michigan Avenue and the city’s cultural campus, but many don’t venture into the local neighborhoods that give the city its distinctive flavor. This year, Chicago Neighborhood Tours launched seven new tour products that take participants to some of the city’s undiscovered neighborhoods.

The tours explore areas such as Bronzeville, Lincoln Park, Argyle Street and Andersonville.

“Most people haven’t been to Andersonville,” said manager Patricia Sullivan. “It used to be a very Swedish area, and Clark Street has a Swedish-American museum. We see Clark Street, and then the Art Deco area of Edgewater, where we see the remaining large lakefront homes that were built there.”

In Bridgeport, tours stop at the Union Stockyard gate and visit a large art center called Co-Prosperity Sphere. In Bronzeville, stops include an African-American art gallery, the Stephen A. Douglas Memorial and the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Nature lovers will enjoy a look at Columbus Park and Garfield Park.

“They’re two of the oldest parks in Chicago’s parks system,” Sullivan said. “There are waterfalls, lagoons and gorgeous field houses in both of those parks. We also go into the Garfield Park Conservatory, which is the oldest and largest conservatory in the United States.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.